DNA Barcoding Imagine if every animal came with an easy-to-read barcode, that could identify to which species it belonged! Envision a simple scanner in the future that can get illegal fish or timber out of global markets, ferret out a new pathogen or monitor the environment..costing a couple of dollars and a few hours to get a barcode read.
Traditionally, taxonomy can be tedious, based on careful analysis of the shape of a beak, color of a wing and tiny differences apparent only to an expert eye..which can hit or miss. But in DNA barcoding, scientists simply read out 650 letters of a single gene, called cytochrome c oxidase I (COI), much smaller than the 3 billion letters of the human genome, for example. The COI gene is so variable, that most species have a single, unique code .
There are 160,000 species of butterflies and moths known..about as many more remain to be described. The butterflies in each of the rows below may look the same, but the are easily distinguished by their barcodes.